Europe's Best Hope for Greece?

Give them a real choice.

Photographer: LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images

It wasn't so long ago that Alexis Tsipras was describing the International Monetary Fund as "criminal" and demanding that Germany pay war reparations to Greece. That he is now Europe's favored candidate for prime minister of Greece is a paradox that should reassure no one.

QuickTake Greece's Financial Odyssey

Whoever wins Sunday's parliamentary elections in Greece, the result will be unsatisfying unless both Greek and European leaders can get with a simple, straightforward program: No more muddling though. Either Greeks accept the painful reforms necessary to keep the country in the euro -- or they reject them, return to their currency and take full control of their economy.

That's not the choice Greeks will face this weekend. Tsipras and the leader of the establishment New Democracy Party, Evangelos Meimarakis, both offer qualified support for the bailout, and seem eager to change the subject. In a televised debate Monday night, the two men quarreled over which had the more feckless record.

In a less polarized political environment -- and a more healthy democracy -- one option might be to form a coalition between the two main parties, so they could take joint responsibility for making the bailout work. Meimarakis has made just such a proposal, but Tsipras has ruled out out the idea. Regrettably, he's probably right: Such a deal could empower fringe parties, such as the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, by making them sole champions for opposition to the bailout.

The calculation being made in Berlin and Paris is that if Tsipras's Syriza party were to lose Sunday's vote, it would return to the opposition and abandon its (already lukewarm) support of the bailout. Far better, the thinking goes, to leave Tsipras in charge -- of the country and the bailout. Even in opposition, Meimarakis's party is likely to still support the bailout.

It's a convoluted rationale that suggests how the debt crisis has distorted Greek democracy.

It may well be that a Tsipras victory is the most desirable outcome for Europe, offering the best hope for a period of stability. If so, it is a faint hope. The result that Greece and Europe need most is clarity about their future.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.